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Responsive Web Design: No Magic Bullet


Mike Fennessy


March 15, 2013


Digital, Our Thinking

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Back in December, our own Jake Craigmile wrote a post about responsive web design and some of the details and pitfalls along the responsive path from a developer’s perspective. As more and more RFPs show up on my desk that include responsive design, I felt like an addendum to Jake’s original post was in order.

2013 seems to show no signs of slowing on the trend towards doing more with less for many brand partners. With mobile browser usage on the rise, due in part to low-end smartphones becoming the new free phones, our brand partners are looking for digital parity on consumers’ devices. And apparently they see responsive design as a sort of magic bullet for their digital problems.

If anything, our experience has been that responsive design requires increased diligence from both sides of the partner table. A diligence that is often hard fought to maintain. Brand partners relish the idea of sticking to a single codebase on the one hand, then send us emails with the other, asking if we are going to support yet another break point for X device that was just announced two minutes ago.

On responsive projects, we’ve been spending far more time in IA, user flows and wire framing. A certain amount of this time can be naturally attributed to the planning for desktop, tablet and mobile sizes, but a large chunk is also spent wrestling over what stays and what goes. More than ever, the ability to shed unnecessary fluff, both in content and design, is key. For brand partners already clinging to the notion that everything on a page is of equal importance, this may prove too much to bear.

They don’t understand that elements and content that are hidden still get downloaded, negatively affecting download speeds on cellular connections. They don’t understand that desktop and tablet users expect a “lean back” experience while mobile users want specific content right now. Unsurprisingly, no time is taken to ask the question of whether their site needs to be responsive. They heard about it on a TED talk, and dammit they want it!

Responsive design as a tool has become an insider phrase that has escaped the confines of the insider world. And like Photoshop before it, the short, innocuous phrase belies the complexities of the tool. It's up to us to educate our brand partners on what’s best for their needs, not the other way round. And perhaps more importantly, that the “magic” in the responsive bullet is really just a mixture of more time, more diligence, and more money.

Image Source: Kim Koza

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